Tech Manager—Defer It or Delete It

For the last two past months I have discussed getting things done and how a book helped me move things along that I had coming my way. In “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by Paul Allen, the author reminded everyone of his methods… Do it. Delegate it. Defer it. Delete it. Take a few minutes to go back and read the last couple of articles (Tech Manager—Do It or Delegate It / Tech Manager—Practical Tips for Delegating).

Defer It

I mentioned in the first article his concept of quick review which Paul Allen calls his “2 minute” question. I expand that to 5 or 10 minutes and added other questions, but you will get the idea. You should ask yourself if you are the person to do the job and if so, how long will it take, and if it won’t take long, then is it more important than what you are currently doing? You should only ask these things once. Process it only once, decide what to do and move in the direction of your decision. Don’t push off an item and come back later to ask the same questions. Define it once and move ahead. If the answer is that it should be you doing the work and it is worth doing and it will not take that long then “Do It” …  just get it done now.

Let’s say that it should be you doing the work, but it will take more time than you have right now, or it is not as important as what you are doing at the time. Then you “Defer It”. This does not mean you ignore it. It means that you put it on your task list. You need to decide if it is the next item you do or if it can be deferred even longer. If it is not going to be at the top of your list, then try to define when it needs to be done and put it in the proper spot on your list. If it is deferred longer than a day or two, set a reminder of some kind to come back to it. Maybe put it in as a calendar reminder. The concept is… you will go back and do this…  not just keep deferring.

If it is a task given to you by others, work with them to define the timeline they can expect your attention to their needs and talk out a deadline. It may be a quick back and forth conversation that defines a due date as a few hours, days or whatever. Once you get agreement, the person knows that their item will be addressed.

When you start working on the task you deferred, go back and ask the person if the need is still there or if the situation has changed. They may have figured out an answer, or it may have been completed by someone else in the meantime. The priority may have changed. They may have another issue that is more important to them than the original trouble. It also lets them know that you are now working on their issue. If you do not check in and just start working on their problem, you may spend time doing something that is no longer needed.

Delete It

What if the task that comes your way is not something that needs to be done. I have things that I want to do that are important to anyone but me. They go on my “wish list” of things that I wish I had time to do. Or maybe on an idea list of things to research when I get time. But sometimes there are things that just do not need to be done. Others bring you their “great ideas” or their “wouldn’t it be nice if” tasks that they do not have time to do, but seem to want you to do it.

Don’t delete other people problems. If something is broken, failing or blocking project progress, get on it. Problems are your bread and butter. You are here to help. Drop what you are doing and go help, unless you are working on another person broken item. If that happens, quickly prioritize and do the most urgent.

But, if something comes your way that seems to fall into the “not really needed” category, then you should delete it and not put it on any list. This is hard to do for some. And there may be few items that really are “worthless”. You don’t want to be known as the person who ignores everyone’s needs. And if someone brings you something, they think it is a real need. When this happens and it is an idea and not a problem, I try to hand it back to the person who brought it to me. “That sounds good, can you make that happen?” Or you can tell them there is just no time right now and ask them to come back to you in a week/month and ask again. When deleting other people’s task that are trying to get on your list, be gentle. It might be very important to them.  But some things are best done by others (delegate it) or not done at all (delete it).


Now that I am done with this series of articles, I thought I would put a disclaimer at the end. Lists work well for me and a lot of people, but not everyone. Santa makes lists, but I am not sure the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny make lists. Your mileage may vary. You should define your best way of working (and make sure that it fits with those you work with and for). Collect great ideas and build your own system.

Overreliance on Lists

Don’t let this system get you locked into a process that does not work for you. The list might get long and make you feel like a failure for not getting it all done. It is not that big a deal to work without lists for a while. Free yourself from the constant nagging of a list of things that need your attention. Use your system, don’t let it use you.

For those that don’t like Lists

Chances are there a few (or more) of you reading this that are done with lists. You are thinking that lists do not work. They are tyranny. They kill creativity. They reward those with OCD. I get it. Lists can be overused. They can give a false sense of calm and organization. If these statements ring true for you, then do not try to fit your work life into these last few articles. It is not the way you work. Find your own method and make it work for you. One size does not fit all.

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